Saline Area Schools said goodbye to several retiring staff members Tuesday. Only five retiring staff members attended a reception in the cafeteria at Liberty School. They were also honored at the Board of Education meeting later in the evening.
High school teacher Deborah Budnik, Transportation director Patti Henes, paraeducator Val Porter, food service employee Sue Mulka and food service employee and bus driver David Steeb attended the reception. Other retirees included Cynthia Bozung, food service, Marty Burnette, operations, Debbie Danneffel, paraeducator, Sandra Dindoffer, bus driver, Kathy Forgiel, counselor, and Nancy Rodgers, middle school teacher.
The five who attended the reception were good representatives of the Saline Area Schools staff.
Every year, it seems, at least one student chooses Budnik as his or her "honored educator" at the Highest Honors with Distinction banquet. Departing Saline High School Principal Julie Helber said students love Budnik.
"Many students would take AP History all three trimesters. Not only because they love history, but because they really enjoyed learning in her classroom," Helber said. "She built relationships with students that cannot be denied. Students come back, year after year, to come and see her. She taught her entire career like a champion, right until the very last day."
Rex Clary, Director of Operations for the district, said Steeb has worked for the schools for 15 years.
"Building secretaries like to see Dave because if they needed something, he'd never say no," Clary said.
As a bus driver, Steeb was the first Saline schools employee of the day to greet many students, and the last to help them.
Steeb noted that between his 15 years of employment and 13 years of education, he'd spent more than half his life with Saline Area Schools.
Henes worked for Saline Area Schools for 30 years. She spent 16 years as a bus driver. In 2001 the district made her a dispatcher. In 2009 the district named her director of transportation.
Clary, who is taking on many of Henes' responsibilities, has spent the last year training with her.
"In a time of budget cuts and pay cuts, she did more with less. She developed a great team in the transportation department that safely served our students and families," Clary said. "And, if you need to know which kid lives where in Saline, you need to call Patti."
Henes said she enjoyed coming to work every day. With four grandchildren in the district she plans to stay involved.
Mulka was hired 19 years ago. She helped open Woodland Meadows Elementary School. Jim Davis, Director of Food Services for Saline Area Schools, said Mulka was his go-to person at Woodland Meadows.
To many, though, Mulka is known as the "singing lunch lady" because she loves to sing on the job. It's a moniker that follows Mulka wherever she goes. Like Steeb, Mulka is a graduate of Saline Area Schools.
"It's just been wonderful here," Mulka said.
Porter, a paraeducator at Harvest Elementary School, drew praise from Principal Betty Rosen-Leacher and Assistant Superintendent Curt Ellis. Porter was president of the support staff union and sat across the table from Ellis in negotiations.
"She always had her group's interest at heart, and she was always fair and professional. I will always be grateful to you for that," Ellis said.
Porter has worked in the district over a span of 18 years.
"I don't know if everyone realizes how difficult the role of paraeducator is. We have some tough cookies to work with, day-in and day-out. Val is never to take on the most difficult challenges," Rosen-Leacher said. "She did it with love, care and compassion."
Porter said she was thankful for all the support she received from her Saline Area Schools family. She said her husband was serving in Afghanistan throughout most of her years in the district.
"The Saline schools and Harvest community is who I depended on when I am and down and out. They were always there to lift me up. The kids...I love those kids," Porter said.
Ellis said the staff at Saline Area Schools make it a special place.
"It's a great time to be a kid at Saline Area Schools. It's a great place because of people like you that serve these children and make it their life's mission to ensure they get a great education," Ellis said.
Superintendent Scot Graden also thanked the employees for their service. Graden said teachers and support staff make connections that have lasting impact on students.